Opinion

Do Zionism and the State of Israel have intrinsic value?

Religious Zionism should celebrate, not reject its diversity of thought and opinion.

Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Crowds of Israelis wave flags at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

Zionism is a diverse movement, with many factions and differing ideologies. Religious Zionism is one of the larger factions, composed of people who combine observance of Torah and halacha with Zionist thought and activism.

There are also factions within Religious Zionism itself, however. They might seem similar to someone who is not a member of the movement and even Religious Zionists themselves may not be aware of them. Nonetheless, these various schools of thought approach Zionism in very different ways.

One of the major differences between them is on the question of whether Zionism has intrinsic value or is merely useful in service of a higher value.

In halacha and Jewish philosophy there is a division between actions that are ends in themselves and actions that are means to an end. A well-known example is the building of a sukkah. Although it is a mitzvah in and of itself, the action of building a sukkah is considered a hechsher mitzvah. That is, a means of fulfilling the mitzvah of living in a sukkah. Building the sukkah has no intrinsic value in of itself.

Religious Zionists today are divided on whether Zionism and the State of Israel have value in of themselves or constitute a hechsher mitzvah.

The view that Zionism and Israel do have intrinsic value sees them as part of the process of redemption, ultimately leading to the messianic era. Rabbi Boruch Weider, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hakotel in Jerusalem’s Old City and a student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, held that halacha and Judaism has changed forever with the founding of the State of Israel. Thus, it changed Jewish destiny in the most fundamental way, giving it immense intrinsic value.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and Rabbi Josh Broide once hosted Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem, on their weekly show “Behind the Bima.” At one point, Rabbi Meiselman, whose uncle was Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, was asked about Rabbi Soloveitchik’s views on Zionism, as Rabbi Soloveitchik was considered one of the leading rabbis of the Religious Zionist movement.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s position, as Rabbi Meiselman explained it, was different from that of Rabbi Weider. Rabbi Soloveitchik saw Zionism and the State of Israel as a vehicle to understand Torah and observe more mitzvot. He maintained that the Zionist movement and Israel do not have intrinsic value, but are a hechsher mitzvah.

The overwhelming majority of Religious Zionists today, especially the movement’s leaders and rabbis, concur with Rabbi Weider. Indeed, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate included the term “the beginning of the redemption” in the prayer for the State of Israel recited by many Religious Zionist communities.

I once discussed Rabbi Soloveitchik’s view with a leading Religious Zionist scholar. He lamented that many in the Religious Zionist community see Rabbi Soloveitchik and Rabbi Meiselman’s view as anti-Zionist, and will label its adherents as such. It is unfortunate that some prefer to cancel those with differing views rather than celebrate the diversity of Religious Zionism.

Indeed, Religious Zionism is rich with scholarship, activism and loyalty to the Jewish state. Its schools, seminaries and yeshivas have produced leading Torah scholars and IDF officers. A sizeable number of Knesset members are members of the Religious Zionist movement. Its popularity has spread beyond the borders of Israel. Countless Orthodox synagogues around the world consider themselves adherents of Religious Zionism and fly an Israeli flag next to the ark.

Religious Zionism will only grow richer by celebrating its diversity of thought and opinion.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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